CORVALLIS - Unsure of how to safely prepare homemade salsa or home canned tuna? Or maybe you're curious about whether those pickles Grandma canned 20 years ago are still safe to eat. Help is a telephone call away via the Oregon State University Extension Food Safety/Preservation Hotline: 1-800-354-7319.
Sponsored by the OSU Extension Service Family and Community Development (FCD) program, the hotline is now available 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, except holidays, through Oct. 15.
This special service is staffed by certified OSU Extension Service Family Food Education volunteers from Lane and Douglas counties, and staff in the Lane County office of the OSU Extension Service.
"The purpose of the hotline is to respond to food safety, food preservation and food storage questions from Oregonians," said Carolyn Raab, OSU Extension foods and nutrition educator and director of the food safety/preservation project.
Hotline staffers are all graduates of the OSU Extension Service Family Food Education volunteer program where they receive 40 hours of instruction. Last year hotline volunteers gave 560 hours of their time responding to 7,000 calls.
"We get an amazing range of questions," said Nellie Oehler, FCD nutrition education field faculty in Lane County and hotline coordinator. "Some people want to know if home canned food that is several years old is still safe to eat or if the cream pie they left in the back seat of the car overnight is still good. Other callers want us to settle arguments about whether a particular home canning practice is OK or not."
"Many callers tell us that they really appreciate the hotline because they get to talk to a real person rather than listen to a recording," Oehler added.
Providing this service is important, Raab emphasized, because home canning of foods can be dangerous, even lethal, if not done properly.
A key concern is to prevent the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, from becoming a problem in home canned foods, Raab explained. The best way to ensure home canned foods are safe is to obtain the latest food preservation guidelines available and follow them carefully, she said.
According to a 1996 survey, 28 percent (more than 27 million) of U.S. households conducted home canning activities in 1995-96.
There are several sources of home food preservation information, many provided by companies that offer home canning equipment, said Raab. However, the OSU Extension food safety/preservation hotline, now in its sixth year of statewide operation, is unique in that it offers the latest research-based information available, she said.
In a 2002 survey of hotline callers, 96 percent of those responding (from 21 Oregon counties) reported using the information they received. Seventy-five percent reported doing something differently as a result of the call, and 76 percent reported sharing the information they received with others.